“I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter hidden things, things from of old – things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done.” (Psalm 78:2-4)
Your stories are among the most powerful ministry tools you have. We’ll spend the next several posts talking about how you can prepare your stories to be useful in your efforts to invite people to take a little step closer to Jesus.
Stories, by their very nature, connect with us on a deeply human way. All stories boil down to this basic structure: a character encounters a problem and works to resolve it. This basic structure is something each of us encounters every day. We are characters encountering problems and working toward resolution. When we hear a story, we naturally put ourselves in the role of the main character. We naturally empathize with that character and learn from the struggles that character faces. When Jesus tells parables like the three “lost” parables of Luke 15 (the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal/lost son), he’s inviting us to empathize with the characters and learn from them.
Stories are powerful because they get around people’s defenses. A story isn’t an argument, nor is it a polemic. Every story has a point, but because it’s a story, the point can get past our initial defenses and strike home in a special way. When the prophet Nathan confronts King David about his sexual assault on Bathsheba and assassination of Uriah, he uses a parable to get past the king’s defenses (2 Samuel 12:1-14). While Nathan uses a story as an entry into prophetic confrontation, a story can also be a way to diffuse tension. Legend has it that Abraham Lincoln once quipped “A story is the shortest path between a stranger and a friend.” Whether he actually said it or not, Lincoln certainly practiced that truth in his life. Among his contemporaries, Lincoln was legendary for his capacity to diffuse tension with a humorous anecdote or to illustrate a point with a folksy yarn.
“But I’m not a gifted storyteller!” you may protest, or perhaps you think “None of my stories are interesting.” I suggest that scripture says differently. David reflects on this in Psalm 139: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well….All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Ps 139:13,15). Scripture teaches that God is the storyteller, we are the story. And because God authors our stories, our stories are not only interesting, but wonderful. Paul picks up on this imagery when he says of the Corinthian church: “And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Corinthians 3:3).
For our stories to be useful as ministry tools, we have to examine our lives to see God’s hand at work. We have to be continually growing in looking at our lives to see how God has been operating. This is one of the things we do in prayer. When we express prayers of gratitude, we are thanking God for how He has written good things into our story. When we ask for help, we are asking for God’s intervention or guidance when dealing with a problem in our story. Prayer, by its very nature, acknowledges that God is not only the author of our story, but also one of the main characters in our story.
However there are other spiritual disciplines that help us get in touch with our stories. Journaling is a great opportunity to reflect upon and work on your stories. The act of writing forces us to think and to arrange our thoughts. In writing, we gain new insight and understanding about our stories, and we see God’s hand with greater clarity. Another helpful discipline is having a regular prayer partner. Find a brother or sister to meet with regularly and share in prayer. As you share your joys and your prayer needs, you will naturally be sharing them in the form of story. Having a prayer partner is like having a regular storytelling rehearsal.
If you really want to go deep in developing storytelling as a tool, I commend Dan Allender’s book To Be Told. Allender is a Christian counselor who understands the spiritual richness that comes from telling our stories. His book is essentially a how to manual on writing and learning from your own story.
Over the next several posts, we’ll take a deeper look at our own stories and how we can use them as subtle invitations to draw closer to Jesus.